How New Tech Is Failing DIY Musicians (and how to fix it)

Since the modern music industry’s inception, the dysfunctional family of art, commerce, innovation and technology has fought beside and against itself to get us where we are today. Each major paradigm shift (from piano rolls threatening sheet music to digital tech threatening analog) brings out the doomsayers claiming “the end is near” and cynics claiming “the old is better.” Nevertheless, with each change, the industry has come out on the other side bigger, stronger and, hopefully, better.

In the most recent shift, new tech promised to give the artist unprecedented opportunities and control, streamlining music production and distribution in the same ways other industries — like hospitality, transportation, grocery shopping, and food delivery — have and this had made it easier for anyone to create and share their art. With Uber people can get from A to B quicker than ever before. With Instacart, you can have your entire grocery list arrive at your doorstep. And with Pro Tools, Garageband, Logic, Soundcloud, CDbaby, Tunecore, Distrokid, Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, and a flood of plug and play home recording hardware, songwriters can make and release their own records — easier, quicker, and faster … and without the need for a label. Additionally, social media now allows unlimited opportunities for an artist to market themselves and connect to fans and influential people. And more recently, new services have emerged that help the artist track and collect any money generated from everything just mentioned.

In the same wave of anti-establishment attitudes that drastically changed the rules of the game for politics and other businesses, the music industry has shifted to cater to the independent spirit. The songwriter/musician has become a DIYer — independent from the “suits” — and that means that anyone can “make it.” Songwriters and performers have become empowered to wrest back ownership of their art and themselves from the sharks and scammers… but has it worked?

While new technology and the DIY age seems to have provided a pathway to allow some artists to successfully build their careers all on their own, the real question is whether or not the percentage of songwriters and recording artists who are finding mass market and monetary success in this DIY age is any larger than the percentage of artists who were finding that success in the past, prior to DIY, using the old business model. And furthermore, has technology really done anything to improve upon or disrupt the old industry whatsoever?

For all its faults, the conventional music industry did a lot of things right. While new tech is now offering “solutions” that claim to streamline and offer the same services that big labels used to (and still do) provide, the big difference is these new tech-based services put all the responsibility and risk on the artist and have no vested interest in whether or not the artist actually goes on to succeed. On the contrary, major labels were (and are) at least made up of a team of service providers that actually had a stake in the artist’s success and, if you were fortunate enough to get signed, a record label could be extremely valuable in cultivating that success. The label invested in you and, whether or not you succeeded, it was their gamble. They took care of the countless different things needed to develop your unique and authentic sound, pair you with compatible collaborators and producers who would be likely to elevate your music and market you and, for the most part, the label’s team consisted of people who were extremely qualified and connected to give you the best chance to succeed. It was also their job to keep everyone in check and watch over you.

Part of this old music business model does still exist. We do still have major labels responsible for breaking an artist into the mainstream, the big difference now being that major labels don’t provide much development early on in an artist’s career like they did for their artists in the past. But aside from that, this old music business model continues to run pretty much as it always has: a record label signs an artist, leverages their marketing expertise and contacts, and sells the product. Their core customer is still the same — the music consumer/fan. This new DIY industry, however, that has emerged is comprised not of labels, but of service providers and online marketplaces. These services and online marketplaces (Soundcloud, Spotify, Tunecore, Soundbetter, Studiotime, ect) provide DIY artists with many of the same services a label would, but with one major difference. While this new DIY industry is cloaked in the myth that these online services and the artist are still on the same team — creating a product to sell to the world — the truth is that somewhere along the way there was an almost undetectable (and perhaps unintentional) split that distinctly separates this new industry from the old — creating a completely different business model with a different set of rules selling a completely different product to a completely different customer. While the conventional music industry’s customer remains the fans and supporters of the artist, this new music industry’s customer …is the artist.

Today, an independent artist is left on their own to find (and pay) dozens of individual services to fill the shoes of major labels — none of which have any stake or vested interest in the success of the artist. Now, instead of the old way of an artist paying the label back for their services IF they made it, the artist must instead pay a ton of independent services upfront BEFORE they even have a shot at making it. These companies pull a profit directly from the artist’s pocket (not from the pockets of the artist’s fans), and they do so without any stake in the artist, meaning they have no incentive to actually help the artist succeed — allowing the artist to potentially waste time and money bringing a product to market that might be premature, underdeveloped, below industry quality standards, or that just might not be any good. So while new tech is allowing anyone to create, release and distribute their music to the public without the need for a label, if the artist’s music isn’t actually prepared for a release or if the artist doesn’t have the marketing knowledge, skills or contacts to actually get people to listen — then this might not be so great for the artist, who’s paying for these services out of pocket.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with any service springing up to help today’s musicians. Helping anyone do something they love is a good thing. But if we say we’re there to help, we have to be honest about what we’re offering, and provide a holistic framework for success. If we really care about artists, we really need to start working WITH them rather than just FOR them.

In the DIY age, new tech (hardware, software, and online services and marketplaces) has accelerated the production and distribution process so that anyone can quickly and easily make and sell music on their own. But this isn’t always (or even usually) a good thing. Not only are we being inundated with people who lack the skills or talent to make good music — but truly talented artists are not realizing the true potential they otherwise would if given the time, tools and help of experienced collaborators. Most of the public opinion (listeners/potential fans) have been saying for years that music is getting worse since new tech arrived.

So the problem is not that DIY services are streamlining distribution, but that new tech and certain services are streamlining the creation process of music recording and production itself. And that it’s too easy to then prematurely bring that music to market, resulting in music being released by the artist that likely isn’t their best work and money spent by the artist to release that music — for which they’ll likely never see a return on their investment.

While it’s not anyone’s responsibility except the artist to make sure their music is developed and meets industry quality standards prior to production and/or release, it doesn’t mean that the lack of support an artist now receives in the DIY era needs to (or should) go overlooked and remain an incomplete system. And it certainly doesn’t mean we should continue to perpetuate a message that the DIY system is by far a much better model for the artist than the old music business model. They both have flaws.

If you’re an unsigned or “DIY” artist, yes it is possible to find market success, but to do so, you still need to complete all of the same steps you needed to in the old industry…..but on your own without a label’s support. You need to work your craft, develop your sound, and have outstanding material and outstanding production to rise above the noise and plant the seeds of a grassroots following. You need to find, vet, and hire the right collaborators, musicians, and producers. You need to brand yourself and intelligently market your music.

But hey, if you CAN manage to get there by doing-it-yourself, the upside is you own yourself and keep all the money you earn — with no need to share your wealth with anyone else. And this is the whole appeal of the argument for the DIY “revolution”.

The problem with this revolution, though, is that — yes, artists are given the tools for success but tools will get you nowhere without the experience, expertise, and guidance needed to properly use the tools. Without knowing how to use the tools, artists (especially very young artists) are set up to fail. Essentially, artists are being given access to new services and products, before they’ve even reached a point in their development where they are skillfully equipped and/or artistically ready to use them in a way that will result in a quality product worthy of being released and promoted.

On top of that, the artist is paying for these tools and services (or hiring engineers and producers via platforms like Soundbetter and Studiotime with no guarantee of compatibility) up front and at their own risk making it a high stakes game.

If an artist is paying for these products and services (who have no stake in the artist’s success) without having the proper expertise or development or without being able to first qualify hired collaborators… it sets the artist up to fail — or at least become majorly discouraged.

The entire industry isn’t operating like it used to and it’s a totally new atmosphere now. Big labels aren’t performing the same functions. They’re not providing artist development, they’re not spending their resources to help nurture an artist’s sound, and they’re not helping to pair the artist with the right producer anymore (again, services like Soundbetter give artists access to producers for hire, but without vetting them first to be the right fit for the artist, someone who will likely provide innovative results or without overseeing quality control — a job labels used to do so well). The major labels also made sure that the whole process was going to be copacetic and run smoothly and would generally just “be there” to watch over the process. One example of what is happening without this 3rd party oversight is now coming to light with the #metoo movement with stories like the Ryan Adams FBI investigation being covered by major outlets like Pitchfork and The New York Times exposing just what a vulnerable position new artists are now in — working behind closed doors in unregulated, unmonitored environments in an imbalanced system.

And again, major labels took on all the financial risk, by fronting the money for the recording, production, distribution, and marketing of the music — but actually then having a vested interest in helping the artist succeed. Today, in the DIY era, the artist is left to navigate all of this terrain on their own, while paying for everything out of pocket — taking on all this risk but lacking the professional tools, guidance, security and expertise to help them create their product in a way that gives the music a likely shot of reaching its highest potential.

In an age where we’ve made it easier than ever for people to create and release music, we, on the business side, still need to make sure we’re also nurturing the creators. Instead of just treating creators simply as consumers — paying for our services — we need to instead leverage the possibilities of new tech to provide a holistic framework of products and services, to include support for artistic development, secure and optimized collaboration and music production, and quality control and security. If we’re going to perpetuate an idea that the DIY era of music is truly an era of artist empowerment, then we should be fully empowering the artist.

Created by CEO Emily Satterlee, a songwriter deterred early in her career and COO Jonah Brockman, a music producer who witnessed these flawed systems escalate over the 20+ years he’s been in the industry, was created to fill in the gaps that now exist in the DIY era in order to facilitate a whole and complete DIY music production ecosystem by providing four key benefits:

Artist & Song Development

Our patented Song-Prep template helps to nurture & amp; elevate the artist’s vision, setting up their song for success, prior to starting production. This pre-production assistance and artist & song development happens up front and allows the artist to effectively articulate and communicate their vision, (choosing from specific styles, mixing preferences, instruments, and emotions) to producers. This empowers the artists to become co-producers in the process, helping to shape their sound, and eliminates many of the communication barriers that can often otherwise exist between these two parties.

Innovative & Quality Production

With ItyDity, we provide a trusted avenue for artists to get the best possible production, uniquely tailored for them. Artists receive multiple creative concepts for their song from top producers, then pick their favorite, finishing the song to perfection. Essentially, we’re leveraging new tech to perform a matchmaking function, similar to the way major labels once paired artists and vetted, compatible producers together to create high quality, innovative music, reducing the risk. The artist can also rest assured knowing we always have their back and that in the end, they’ll walk away with a market-ready, radio quality mix.

Artist Protection & Security

Our entire platform is centered around safety, security and compliance ensuring fair price points & protecting the well being of the artist. Each artist using the platform is allocated their own project manager to make sure the production continues at a steady pace and that each party’s needs and concerns are being met and heard. The platform also comes complete with built-in hassle free proper legal contracts, allowing the artist to retain 100% copyright and even offer royalty splits to their producer, shall they choose to do so.

Industry Insights & Support

Post-production, and once the song is complete, the artist receives their Artist Identity Synopsis™ a breakdown of their unique production style and a tailored list of playlists, satellite radio stations, and licensing opportunities (TV/Film/Ad placements) where their song might find industry success. This patented process also helps artists identify their strengths, weaknesses and hidden strengths which can then be leveraged to advance their music and skills moving forward.

ItyDity’s system of guiding artists through a process of song development and then matching artists with a few curated producers, allowing them to work securely together ahead of time creates a system that promotes and incentivizes high quality, innovative music. This way, when an artist then takes that music to market, they likely have a better chance at success or at the very least this system reduces a lot of the upfront risk artists otherwise face — saving them time, money, and heartache and helping them to feel more fulfilled, having created a more authentic and professional product. ItyDity is the missing piece to fill the gaps created by the DIY industry so that the DIY industry can actually work — for both artists and the DIY service providers.

This is about pushing the boundaries of what’s possible now for creative collaboration. What’s possible if we leverage tech in such a way that utilizes our access to wider networks to facilitate a more intimate and personal creative process. We’re using new tech to bring back the human element of music, where skilled and innovative craftsmanship matters most, where people are positively reinforced to innovate and take risks, promoting ingenuity in music. We absolutely live in a time where small home studios can become big businesses and DIY artists can harness the resources available to them to become big acts. But for this to happen, we as the professionals on the business side of music need to come from the right place. We need the right intentions, not to look at the artist as our consumer, but go back to working with the artist, providing artists with the right tools to truly succeed.


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